The East County Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) heard comments on a draft program EIR covering the entire Alameda County segment of the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA).
Alameda County shares the wind power area with Contra Costa County. The Alameda County segment stretches for 14 miles southward from the Contra Costa line, and nine miles westward from the San Joaquin County line.
The area is undergoing repowering to take down old, relatively small wind turbines implicated in raptor deaths. They will be replaced with far fewer, but very large, modern turbines, which are expected to spare more birds.
The BZA looked at the draft program EIR during a workshop on June 27, but took no action. Board members asked questions, but said they would withhold their remarks for their own written comments later. Several members of the public said what they would like to see addressed in the draft EIR, which also is pertinent to two specific Altamont repowering projects that were being carried on the agenda with the draft EIR.
Approval of both would depend on the draft EIR findings, and requirements that result from those observations. The projects also have their own project EIRs.
One of the two repowering projects, Golden Hills, is sought by NextEra Energy Resources. The firm proposes to remove 775 turbines, and replace them with up to 52 new turbines, generating as much as 88 megawatts. The location covers about 7 square miles along the south side of Interstate 580 through much of the east-west distance of the Altamont.
Immediately south of Golden Hills, the Patterson Pass Wind project, would cover about 1.5 square miles. The project proposed by a subsidiary of EDF Renewable Energy, would replace 336 turbines producing 21 megawatts, and install between 8 and 12 new ones, generating 19 megawatts.
Deadline for comments on the draft EIR is July 21. Staff said the program EIR and the applications for the two projects are expected to go to the board of supervisors near the end of the year.
Several members of the public talked about what they want to see in the EIR. Juan Pablo Galvan, land use planner for Save Mount Diablo, said that he was very encouraged by the reduction in the number of turbines.
He expressed concern about whether the EIR sufficiently addresses actions needed to reduce the bird-kill numbers enough to make the golden eagle population stable.
Galvan said that Save Mount Diablo would like to see a baseline bird mortality report included in the EIR to give a sense about whether projected rates of bird deaths will meet the goals of saving raptors.
He asked whether the EIR includes a priority system in place for the different options that are proposed to cut bird deaths. There is not a priority system. Galvan said that Save Mount Diablo would like to see acquisition of easements as the top priority on the mitigation list.
Karen Sweet, an Altamont rancher and retired Resources Conservation District executive officer, told the BZA that a rancher's perspective is important in requiring the mitigation for the wind-power projects.
"A rangeland specialist in grasses could help replant with local grasses, and not experiment with native plants. We have unique rainfall there," said Sweet.
Sweet added that during construction, local residents' transportation may be disrupted, but the county has a rural roads group that can communicate via e-mail, or call a meeting to help deal with a congestion problem.
As a tool to help mitigate impacts, Sweet also mentioned the Partnership for Land Conservation and Stewardship (PLCS), which was formed by the county in 2006. It was the county's attempt to create a broker-like mechanism to put people who needed project mitigation in touch with ranch-land owners.
The PLCS succeeded in educating ranchers and potential mitigators with projects.It even had 11 ranchers interested in looking at mitigation potential, Sweet told The Independent later. However, no agreements were signed between ranchers and mitigators in the three years before the group became inactive.
Sweet said, "The committee went away, because it had no funding, and no project to motivate it to continue. The committee is still in the county (open space) strategy as a tool." Sweet said that new appointments would have to be made by the county, if it wants to revive the structure.
"I do appreciate that many land trusts are interested in this area. I hope the goal is to support the rural ranching economy," said Sweet.